medieval and renaissance coins

Medieval and renaissance coins

Medieval coins, Prague groschens and tolars/thalers. After the demise of the Western Roman Empire some barbarian coins were made but rarely used. On the British Isles coins were minted again in the 8th century by the archbishops of York and Canterbury. The Franks, however, were minting gold and silver denarius starting during the reign of Clovis I (481 – 511). Charles the Great established a new standard, the livre carolinienne (the modern pound), a unit of both money and weight, equal to 240 deniers. The great ruler reserved a monopoly on minting, and passed strict laws against counterfeiting. The images on both sides of these coins depict either specific rulers or Christian motifs. Coins made from gold were usually various types of ducats or sometinmes florins. Machines for coin manufacture were introduced in the 16th century. In the period of the Italian Renaissance promissory notes developed into the first European bank notes (which, of course, had already been in use in China and were reported upon by Marco Polo and other travellers).

In the Czech lands the original form of payment was some type of a scarf – 10 of them were equal to one denarius. The first minting of coins is documented in 960 (during the reign of Boleslav I.), when the “large” denarii were introduced (10th century – 1st half of the 11th century), then “small” denarii followed (2nd half of the 11th century – 1st half of the 13th century) and finally bracteates took over (the 13th century, 40 mm in diameter, approx. 1 g of silver). These coins were the first to display the Czech two-tailed lion symbol. The development of minting was connected with the rise of new cities and the opening of new silver mines. In the 13th century there were 21 official mints operating in these territories. From the 14th century to the beginning of the 16th centrury the quality of the groschens (denarius grossus) improved and the Prague groschen (grossus pragenses) was the highest quality currency in Europe at the time.

In the 14th century a day labourer might have earned 4-6 groschens per week, a carpenter  16–20. You could buy a cow for 22-55, a block of butter or cheese or a knife cost one groschen. In the 15th century an average tradesman earned two and a half groschen a day. A stone house at the Prague’s Old Town Square could cost as much as 12,000 groschen, but “only” 1,200 in a side street, a wooden home was a bargain at 360. You would spend a half a groschen for a chicken and 4 for a pair of shoes.

At the beginning of the 16th century silver was discovered in Jáchymov (the Joachimsthal valley), the silver coins minted there were called thaler in German or tolar in Czech (the etymology of today’s dollar). The thaler contained 30 g of silver was worth 24 Prague groschen. 

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